QUARANTINE DIARIES: The New Normal: Bike to Work, Share the Road

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 14 May) — Since the suspension of mass public transportation in Davao City, there has been a significant increase of cyclists on the road. Many of them are workers in different industries that are allowed under the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) guidelines.

Among them are health workers, security guards, law enforcers, sales attendants of groceries, market vendors, food processing employees, call center agents, etc.

Some bikers on the other hand are residents going to the market for a supply run or going to the pharmacies to buy some medicines.

However, are the roads in the city safe for the bikers? I’m not so sure.

In the “new normal,” more people will bike to work but are the streets of Davao CIty safe for bikers? Photo by KEITH BACONGCO

I myself had encountered some unruly drivers on the road. I have also seen some posts on Facebook complaining how some drivers are disrespecting some bikers on the road.

As a photojournalist, I have been using my bike as my main mode of transportation in going around the city to take pictures long before the community quarantine was imposed. Aside from the fact that I don’t own a motorcycle, biking is a matter of choice. These days, it’s one of my own ways of imposing “social distancing.”

Since we live some eight kilometers north of the city, biking to the downtown area was quite tough because you had to deal with the traffic congestion, fumes and disrespectful drivers. Some drivers were rude in the sense that they would force you to keep your wheels in the gutter.

I must admit that I was once afraid of biking out in our streets because of some reckless drivers particularly before the speed limit was implemented in the city.

These are things that we could not avoid on the road because we don’t have bike lanes. Also, maybe because some drivers just refuse to give bikers some respect.

To avoid the traffic congestion, I would take alternate routes sometimes in going in or out of the downtown area. The key here is you have to be familiar with your route. Perhaps the most challenging route is inside the maze-like road network of Obrero area.

In the “new normal,” will l Davao City revisit the ordinance on setting up bike lanes? Photo by KEITH BACONGCO

Right now, while we are under ECQ, many are biking because they have no other means of going around. They don’t have other means to get to their work places. While there are lesser vehicles now on the road, it doesn’t mean that it’s already safe for the bikers. The risk is still there because when the streets are empty, some are driving their cars beyond the 30 km/h to 40-km/h speed limit.

Worse, I’ve seen some sports cars dashing on empty roads like they’re in a high-speed chase in action movies.

Many workers need to report for duty every day but not all establishments can afford to hire private shuttles for their employees. Thus, some choose to bike.

Some may have bought a new one or may have borrowed their bikes from friends and families. Like in the case of security guard Maximo Quirong, whom I caught up with while biking on his way to work. He bikes 12 kilometers from Panacan to Uyanguren to report for duty. He is using a borrowed BMX from his brother.

Some frontliners, especially the health workers, are lucky enough to have borrowed a bike from kind-hearted groups or individuals in the city. There is an ongoing initiative called “Lend a Bike Project” for the frontliners in the country.

According to Martin Zaldivar, one of those involved in the initiative in Davao City, there are about three other individuals who are also consolidating the bicycles for the frontliners.

Zaldivar, through his EZ Ride bike shop, provides free technical assistance to the frontliners in case they encounter mechanical problems. The bicycles are borrowed from some local bike shops, surplus stores and some kind-hearted individuals.

When ECQ will be lifted, what’s the new normal? The new normal will have social distancing measures imposed in mass public transportations. I don’t think all of the PUVs will be back on the road once ECQ will be lifted.

I know one PUV driver who may never get back to driving even if the ECQ will be lifted. He anticipates that there will be fewer passengers to ferry due to social distancing measures. He believes that the measure will surely affect their daily income and will only cost them a lot of fuel.

I believe that in the “new normal,” bicycles will be a part of the transportation system. Moreover, many will still avoid riding PUVs as part of social distancing measures.

Some may no longer shift back to riding PUVs because by the time the “new normal” begins, they may have already adapted to their daily biking routine. In Visayan: “Naanad na.”

Thus, the City Government of Davao, especially the Transport and Traffic Management Office (CTTMO) chief Dionisio Abude should open up his mind this time. In 2019, Abude was quoted in news reports that the city does not have enough space for bike lanes.

By the way, the city government installed bike racks in some parts of the downtown area. However, the last time I went (before the community quarantine period) around the downtown area, I never saw even a single rack fully occupied by bicycles.

Bike racks or bike lanes? Photo by KEITH BACONGCO

According to Abude, having bike racks will encourage more people to bike. I don’t think so. It is the bike lanes that will encourage more people to bike and not the bike racks because the bike lanes will make the bikers feel safer. Even without the bike racks, bikers can find a place to park their bikes.

In 2010, the city council passed an ordinance providing a bike lane in the city. It was authored by the late councilor Leo Avila in 2002. But it was not implemented due to the lack of implementing rules and regulations or IRR. (Avila passed away in December 2015).

I believe it’s now the right time to revisit this ordinance, craft the IRR and implement it as part of the “new normal.”

Iloilo City, which is smaller compared to Davao City, was able to build a 25-kilometer bike lane network. I believe it can be done here in Davao City too.

Apart from being environment-friendly, biking also promotes a healthy lifestyle. With fitness gyms still closed, biking is one of the best options to maintain wellness.

 

I hope this time our city officials will consider putting up bike lanes not just for the safety of bikers but for motorists as well. I hope they will give it a try right now especially that there are fewer vehicles running our streets. But I hope that the bike lanes will not just be provided just for the purpose of providing space for the cyclists during this quarantine period. We should look beyond this period and make cycling as part of our daily life.

In the “new normal,” let’s share the road.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of Mindanews. Keith  Bacongco is a photojournalist of Manila Bulletin based in Davao City. His love for bicycles started when he was still in elementary in his home province North Cotabato. This piece was first posted on his blog, www.bacongco.com, on 14 May 2020. MindaNews was granted permission to reprint this.)

 

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